Posts Tagged ‘Brad Campbell’

Political Manipulation of Science – Jersey Style

September 3rd, 2009 2 comments

The Bush administration was widely known – and denounced – for manipulation of science. Examples abound:

Perhaps the most visible and egregious example was Bush White House PR flacks rewriting EPA global warming reports and suppressing the work of Jim Hansen of NOAA, one of the world’s leading global warming scientists – so over the top, it got a CBS TV “60 Minutes” expose.

The NJ press corps press must think that such evil deeds occur only in Washington DC under a conservative Republican administration, because virtually the same thing goes on unreported right here in NJ under liberal democratic administrations.

NJ’s politicization of science is in some ways worse than the Bush administration’s. 

The Bush people were at least smart enough to do their dirty work under cover and behind the scenes. They were implemented by low level and very expendable flacks. They required whistleblowers, or leaks, or investigative journalism to discover them.

But here in NJ, high level State officials – not flacks – act with impunity. They openly act brazenly  and are stupid enough to put in writing exactly the same perverse Bush practices into formal DEP policy!

I have issued numerous press releases that document both the policies and specific examples of abuse (see links below), so the intrepid NJ press corps doesn’t even have to pick up the phone or crack a file over at DEP to document the abuses.

Let me repeat the text of these policies in one spot here:

1. Press Office Review and control over science

Under DEP regulations (NJAC 7:1-1 et seq; 37 NJR 3336), the DEP press office is the “single point of contact” with “all media“.

Scientists can not talk to media before clearance with the press office, including press office control over the content of what they say. A press office flack is in the room during any press interview or on the phone line to make sure the scientist tows the company line.

Under DEP regulations, the Press Office’s role is not to provide factual, objective, complete, responsive, and scientifically sound information. Instead, DEP regulations define the role of the press, which is to provide information  that ensures “that all Department communications with the press reflect the current policies and priorities of the commissioner“.

Any communication with media or release of any science or fact that conflicts with the views of the Commissioner are verboten (DEP employeees have been fired for this). Information and science are spun as a matter of policy – could it be any clearer?  See this link for details and all documents:

2. Policy Review and control over science

DEP has an internal review policy that governs public release of all science and data. The procedure requires:

  • The material has undergone a seven-stage review process, including approval by DEP political appointees and press officers. The DEP Commissioner must also be notified in advance of any scientific report on an undefined “Hot Issue”;
  • Even completed studies may not be “available for public distribution via print or online sources (i.e., journal and magazine articles)” until okayed by DEP management; and
  • Technical updates of the “online Environmental Trends Report” will also require management sign-off including the personal approval of Ms. Herb.

DEP political appointees, the press office, the Commissioner, and perhaps the Governor’s Office must review and approve all science before it becomes public. We have documented cases where the science has been manipulated by these reviews. How could overt politicization of science get any worse?

3. Gag Orders on scientists

Stung by a string of embarrassing disclosures and breakdowns in toxic protections that prompted Legislative oversight hearings, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection ordered its employees to keep any “potentially sensitive information confidential” and to refrain from disclosing agency data to any outside parties”until it is ready for public distribution” according to an Agency email released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

4. Retaliation against whistleblowers or independent scientists

I was forced out of DEP as a whislelblower in 1995 for disclosing widespread mercury contamination of freshwater fish and a plan by Govneror Whitman to supress that science.

Since then, I’ve known of several retaliations by DEP managers.

DEP demoted and transferred its Chief Nuclear Engineer for raising concerns about industry influence on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission during the relicensing process for Oyster Creek nuclear plant, the oldest in the nation. According to a National Public Radio interview:

YOUNG: Ruch points to the case of whistleblower Dennis Zannoni. Zannoni was the agency’s top nuclear energy official. When he raised concerns about the safety of the Oyster Creek facility ”the oldest nuclear power plant in the country”he soon found himself off the nuclear beat.

ZANNONI: One day, January 30, 2007, I was removed without reason from my position as chief nuclear engineer and pretty much put in a broom closet in the department. And it’s been like that for two years. [link]

DEP retaliated against chemical engineer Zoe Kelman for writing and publicly releasing a dissenting report on the health risks of toxic chromium in Jersey City

A comprehensive PEER survey of over 3,500 DEP employees found (read survey & responses here):

*More than half agree that “scientific evaluations are influenced by political considerations at DEP.”

*One quarter of employees reported that they have received direct orders “to ignore an environmental rule or regulation” during the past three years.

*Sixty percent of employees fear “job-related retaliation for disclosing improper activity within DEP.”

5. Secrecy and lack of Transparency

The conduct of science requires openess and tranparency. Yet DEP prohibits public release of scientific data and communications within the Department.

DEP  claims that these data and communications are “deliberative” and exempt from public  records laws.

DEP also meets with industry scientists in secret, and allows those industry scientists  and lawyers and DEP political appointees to impact their scientific work  and to eliminate findings and recommendations opposed by industry.

There is a wealth of documented abuse and manipulation of science. Yet, none of it has been reported by the anemic NJ press corps. The public – the victim of this fraud and abuse – is left in the dark by NJ media.

6. Scientific Fraud

Let me close by noting it has gotten so bad that even the  Wall Street Journal – in  December 23, 2005 page one story “Study Tied Pollutant to Cancer; Then Consultants Got Hold of It” – quoted a polluters’ consultant (you know, the guys that  DEP takes “”at their word“) bragging that his scientific fraud had saved polluters “hundreds of millions of dollars” in NJ on reduced cleanup costs.

The fraudulent research was retracted by the journal that published it (but not the DEP regulatory standard that considered it). The people of NJ are paying for that fraud with our health and environmental integrity.

Read this letter to DEP Commissioner Jackson putting her on notice of this scientific fraud Jackson ignored the science and this letter.

As my grandfather used to say – how about them apples?

Hey, maybe this is why Lisa Jackson eliminated the DEP Division of Science and Research and replaced it with a private external Science Advisory Board. More to follow on that soon.

Political Pressure on DEP – How The Game is Played

September 1st, 2009 No comments


Senator Sweeney (center) consults with Senate President Codey (right) on Senate floor

Senator Sweeney (center) consults with Senate President Codey (right) on Senate floor

First I will lay out the general contours of the issue, and then I will provide the explosive goods. The goods will perfectly illustrate the problem. So bear with me.

It is no secret that Senator Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), Senate Democratic Majority Leader, is a powerful force in South Jersey politics, the Legislature, and the democratic party. Sweeney knows how to wield that power.

It also no secret that Brad Campbell, former DEP Commissioner and one of the brightest environmental lawyers around, is no stranger to how the DEP makes decisions. Campbell has access to and knows how to influence DEP.

Former DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell

Former DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell

What is a secret (to the public) and known among only a handful of insiders, is that Sweeney and Campbell have teamed up to pressure DEP to reverse a recent major pro-environmental decision (this link is only a teaser, read on).

Typically, when pro-environment DEP decisions have a major economic impact on a politically powerful interest, those interests work behind the scenes to pressure DEP managers to reverse the decision.  All too often, the DEP Commissioner caves in to the pressure and directly reverses the staff level decision. In other cases, the deal is not so obvious because the data, science and/or regulatory interpretations that formed the basis of the original decision are revised in a way to undermine the original decision (without leaving fingerprints of political intervention). These changes then force DEP to abandon the original decision and the result is that the the corporate interest prevails (some call this “Agency capture”).

Corporate interests and political DEP managers are enabled to do this under cover of secrecy. Deals are made behind closed doors. The public, the press, and environmental groups don’t even know good decisions were made by staff, never mind that they were reversed by high level managers due to political intervention. There is no transparency and accountability in the system. (Even without special political influence, DEP data show that over 95% of permits are approved by DEP. See latest DEP permit Report here.

The lobbyists, DEP managers and political appointees, and political dealmakers like things just fine this way.

Anti-environmental economic interests also benefit from a DEP staff that is intimidated and reluctant to blow the whistle, because DEP staff know that DEP managers retaliate and that whistleblower laws are weak. Few are willing to risk destroying their career and livelihood.

That’s why transparency at DEP is so important – and why we are working to enhance transparency at DEP.

That’s why whistleblower protections are so important – and why we are working to strengthen them.

That’s why ethical restrictions to limit political abuses are so important – and why we file ethics complaints and seek to strengthen ethics laws and their enforcement.

This is why we are fighting to stop the revolving door and influence peddling at DEP.

That’s why independent public science and scientific integrity are so important – and why we fight to defend them.

Well, every once in a while, this dynamic is reversed and the bright lights of media and public scrutiny make it very difficult if not impossible for the DEP Commissioner to cave in to political pressure.

I have a perfect example of how this all works:

In an August 20, 2009 letter to former DEP Commissioner Brad Campbell, DEP Assistant Commissioner Scott Brubaker made a scientific finding and determined that:

“[the Delaware Bay] is not appropriate for a large-scale wind turbine project due to “impacts to migratory and other bird populations.” and

“the Department has determined that we have, over many years of study and evaluation, developed sufficient information regarding the diversity, scope, and importance of avian resources in and around the Delaware Bay.  Based on these data, we conclude that, at this time, this area is not appropriate for a large-scale wind turbine project.” 

This is a fabulous decision. The Atlantic Flyway Council also opposed the project (see 7/28/09 letter) and the State of Delaware raised significant concerns (see letter)

Brad Campbell represents Delsea Energy, who are seeking DEP approval to put more than 100 wind turbines to produce more than 380 megawatts in the state waters of Delaware Bay.

The DEP rejection letter had been preceded by a closed door June 11, 2009 meeting with Senator Sweeney and DEP Commissioner Mauriello. Clearly, Campbell thought he had DEP support, in the wake of the June 11, 2009 meeting with Senator Sweeney and DEP Commisisoner Mauriello. After that meeting, Mauriello and Campbell had a private conversation that led Campbell to believe that he had DEP support for the project, or that DEP objections were minor or technical in nature.

DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello

DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello

Instead, the DEP August 20 rejection letter clearly took Campbell by surprise because in an August 25, 2009 personal email to DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello, Campbell complained:

When you and I spoke, you said to expect a letter from land use suggesting a meeting to review technical concerns about the Delsea monitoring application”.Did I misunderstand, or has the Department’s position changed from what you described?…Is it really the Department’s view that private parties will not have the opportunity to collect data that might modify, rebut, or qualify F&W’s broad conclusions about the entire Bay?  I don’t want to protract a debate or impose unduly on your time, but the [August 20] letter is quite different from what I expected based on our conversation.”

So, there it is: a powerful Senator calls DEP on the carpet at his State House office in a private off the record meeting with the DEP Commissioner, the former DEP Commissioner and Delsea Energy.

But DEP scientists are not a party to the deal and object.

Campbell then objects to the DEP decision off the record in an email to the Commissioner.

Typically,  with this high powered political pressure brought to bear, such a decision would be reversed.

But now that folks are watching, let’s see what happens!

Oh, BTW – no way DEP Commissioner Mauriello would meet with Sweeney without the knowledge and approval of the front office – so Governor Corzine’s position on this project needs to be established. Will he back DEP scientists?